Six Dumb Questions with Cortez

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan


Let’s face it: a new Cortez outing doesn’t come along every day. The Boston heavy rockers offered up their first release in 2007’s Thunder in a Forgotten Town EP through Buzzville Records. It would be five years before they’d answer with their 2012 Bilocation Records self-titled debut full-length (review here), and five more beyond that for the recently-landed second album, The Depths Below (review here), to make its mark this year as their first domestically-backed collection, issued via the Connecticut-based imprint Salt of the Earth Records. They had a 2014 split with Borracho (review here) and a 2016 digital single covering Deep Purple‘s “Stormbringer” (posted here), but still, they’re not exactly what you’d call prolific.

But, when a new Cortez outing does arrive, it’s all the more of an occasion worth marking. The last half-decade has brought some significant changes in the band, as seen in the departure of longtime drummer Jeremy Hemond (who still plays on The Depths Below) and his replacement with Alexei Rodriguez and the addition of second guitarist Alasdair Swan alongside founding six-stringer Scott O’Dowd, bassist/backing vocalist Jay Furlo and frontman Matt Harrington, but one thing that has remained central to the band is their songwriting. The Depths Below, from the opening aggro thrust of “All Gone Wrong” through the three-part storytelling of “Walk Through Fire,” “The Citadel” and “Blood of Heirs,” and the Life of Agony-esque “Dead Channel” late in the tracklisting, is a shining example of how Cortez are and seem to have always been underrated for the quality of their craft and the purpose of their execution. A well-kept secret known to denizens of smaller Boston-area venues and European labels, it would seem, but primed nonetheless for a wider reach.

As they have been all along. Maybe on that level the lessons of The Depths Below are a refresher course in the kind of straightforward righteousness Cortez have honed since they got their start more than a decade ago, but if check-ins from them are to be so periodic in their nature, then attention and appreciation for the band’s work on its own terms are no less duly earned than they might be if they busted out a new record every eight months. In the interview that follows, O’Dowd and Harrington talk about making The Depths Below and the shifts in lineup Cortez have undergone since the self-titled, as well as the work that’s already begun on their next outing, which is set to arrive whenever the hell they decide it’s good and ready to arrive.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

cortez the depths below

Six Dumb Questions with Cortez

A lot has changed for Cortez since the self-titled. How do you feel about everything that’s gone down with the band in the last five years? Tell me about bringing in Alasdair on guitar and Alexei on drums. How do you feel about where the band is at now?

Scott O’Dowd: In the five years since the release of our self-titled album, quite a lot has happened. Not the least of which was adding Alasdair on second guitar. We’ve always envisioned ourselves as a two-guitar band, but after Tony (our original second guitarist) left the band in 2008, we continued on as a four-piece. This was only because we didn’t have anyone else in mind to fill the position. We’re big believers in chemistry, both musically and personally, so rather than adding someone that we didn’t know, we decided to continue with the four remaining members until we found the right fifth member. Alasdair (who happens to be married to my wife’s cousin) had recently moved to the US from Scotland and we really hit it off on a musical and personal level. I told the rest of the guys about him and he came down to rehearsal. He was a perfect fit and has been with us ever since (2012).

We parted ways with our long time drummer Jeremy [Hemond] in November of 2016 when he moved back to Vermont. As might be expected, devoting time to the band had become an issue because of the distance. We decided to move on and look for another drummer. In a complete stroke of luck, Alexei came across an ad we placed and came down to audition. After trying out a handful of drummers who weren’t right for us, we knew Alexei was our guy from the first song. He fit right in and we all feel a renewed sense of purpose.

We’re really happy, looking forward to working on new material, and playing shows.

How did the writing process work out for The Depths Below? When did you start thinking about a follow-up for the self-titled and how did the material come together? Was there anything in particular you wanted to do coming off the first album?

SO: The writing process worked pretty much the same way it always does, except for Alasdair contributing to the songs, and Matt having even more input this time around. We very rarely stop and say, “OK, it’s time to write for the new album.” Instead, we are always working on ideas whenever we have a chance or are feeling inspired. It’s a perpetual thing for us. Sometimes songs will come together rather quickly, such as “Johnny” from the self-titled. Other times we may have a couple of parts and not be able to finish the song. When that happens we tend to put that particular idea on the back burner and come back to it at a later date. Sometimes even years later. We work on a particular idea until we feel it’s finished, however long that takes. It’s not enough for us to throw a few riffs together and call it done. It’s important that a song has a flow and makes sense. We work democratically and listen to each other’s input and tweak parts until we are satisfied. We’re our own toughest critics.

Some of the material written shortly after the self-titled was in the process of being recorded. Some of the other ideas were fleshed out later on. As I mentioned above, it’s an ongoing thing.

When did you know that “Walk Through Fire,” “The Citadel” and “Blood of Heirs” would tie together? How did that come about, and what is the narrative uniting the songs?

SO: I’m going to defer to Matt on this one.

Matt Harrington: If I’m remembering correctly, “The Citadel” was the first song we completed of the three. “Walk Through Fire” is in a different tuning, but I must have heard it right before “The Citadel” on a practice recording because I remember really liking the way they led into one another. I also knew I wanted to tell a little more of the story when I finished “The Citadel,” which also plays into the lyrical why of “Blood of Heirs.”

“In the Shadows of Ancients” is a loose adaptation of a story I wrote. “Walk Through Fire” is the radicalization of the disenfranchised, “The Citadel” is the execution of the oath by the faithful with a little familial revenge thrown in, and “Blood of Heirs” is a homecoming of sorts with the backdrop of a battle.

How about the recording? Was the album done in one shot or over multiple sessions? It seems like there’s a more aggressive sound this time around. Was that something you were looking to bring out purposefully, or just how it worked out in the writing and production?

SO: We recorded the whole album with Benny Grotto. I give him major credit for understanding exactly what we wanted and helping us capture it in the recording. The album was recorded in a few different sessions. The basic tracks (drums, bass, and some guitars) were recorded at Q Division in Somerville, MA, in December of 2014. We recorded most of the rest of the rhythm guitar tracks at Mad Oak in Allston, MA. We finished up leads and vocals at Moontower (R.I.P.) in Somerville. The actual recording was finished in June of 2015. From there we mixed with Benny and sent it off for mastering to Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice at Peerless Mastering.

As for the more aggressive sound, I think partly it just had to do with some of the songs themselves. We’ve always listened to all sorts of music, and I know I tried to bring some more of my metallic influences to the forefront on a few songs. “Walk Through Fire” for example, was a song that had a bit of a NWOBHM feel to me when I came up with the main riff. “Blood of Heirs” has more of an oldschool thrash-metal-meets-Bathory sort of feel to the main riff. I know we made a conscious effort to have a lot of variation in tempo and feel. I’m sure that directly contributed to the genesis of those two songs. Aside from wanting a good amount of variety, there were no strict “rules.” We like to write riffs and songs we enjoy and try not to worry too much about something being a stylistic outlier or odd man out sort of thing. If we like it, we go with it.

What’s the story behind “Dead Channel?”

MH: I’ve always loved dystopias. I never expected to live in one, but that’s a whole other thing.

The name is a nod to the first line of William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk book, Neuromancer: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

That line drew a young me in instantly, and the visual is a favorite of mine. Pretty soon, someone who picks up that book for the first time won’t know what that is without checking Google, if they even bother to. Isn’t it sort of weird, uncomfortable, and exciting all at once that culture and technology change so completely and frequently now?

Lyrically, this song is a companion of sorts to “Poor and Devoid,” in that they both touch on the idea that we are both consumer and product everywhere we go physically and virtually, and what is presented to us (and sometimes what we present) isn’t always genuine or real.

I watched online communities go from USENET and dialing into BBSs to message boards/forums to where we stand now in both the more mainstream and less accessible parts of a vast internet. These communities have become global cultures and I think this sort of connection without boundaries or borders has power, both positive and negative. The optimist in me likes to think that interconnectivity, community, and freedom are ultimately a good thing.

Do we want to live in a dying world or die knowing we built something that lives on? Maybe we find a better us together, and find better ways to communicate and collaborate without the noise, ideologies, or agendas. Maybe we take a look at the old and say… you know what, it’s okay that isn’t a thing anymore. Maybe we decide to tear every last vestige of those old things down completely. Sometimes it takes weird, uncomfortable, and/or exciting to make something new. Nostalgia and fear shouldn’t prevent people from building things. My hope is that the new things we create are real and genuine and not born from the distractions that are all around us now.

You did the release show earlier this month for The Depths Below, so what’s next for you guys? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

SO: To be honest, there was a great sense of relief in releasing The Depths Below and playing the actual release show. The record had been a long time in the “gestation” period (which seems to be our pattern at this point), and it was our first Boston show with Alexei on drums. We wanted to pick up right where we left off and, at the same time, state our intent to continue progressing as a band. It was a packed house at our favorite club, with some of our favorite folks. We couldn’t have been happier.

As for what’s next, we’re working on new material, getting Alexei up to speed on some choice older tunes, and looking forward to the demo process for the new stuff. We’re already pretty booked up for the Fall with a bunch of regional shows. We also have a split 12″ in the works; that will hopefully be released late this year/early next year. We’re just looking to keep it rolling, wherever it takes us.

Our album is available from our Bandcamp page, or at shows.

Cortez, The Depths Below (2017)

Cortez on Thee Facebooks

Cortez website

Cortez on Bandcamp

Cortez on Twitter

Salt of the Earth Records website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

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Cortez, The Depths Below: Blood Through the Citadel

Posted in Reviews on June 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan


A difference of intent behind the new Cortez album is signaled immediately through the artwork. Where their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) featured an Alex Von Wieding cover of a monstrous, armor-clad version of their namesake (who was also kind of a monster, actually) with red eyes and a laser being shot from his hand as he stands in outer space, The Depths Below opts for altogether deeper-toned fare. Drawn by David Paul Seymour, the front-piece for the Boston quintet’s sophomore outing, which is delivered via Salt of the Earth Records, features a horned dragon facing off in an underwater landscape with what seems to be a naked, neutered Aquaman-style character. Still in a comic style, its stark contrast of colors — blue, green, orange — speak more to harsh edges than than the kind of straightforward heavy rock which Cortez are known to proliferate.

But therein lies the key, because The Depths Below also greatly expands the scope of what Cortez accomplish sound-wise. Comprised of vocalist Matt Harrington, guitarists Scott O’Dowd and Alasdair Swan, bassist/backing vocalist Jay Furlo and drummer Alexei Rodriguez (though Jeremy Hemond plays here), Cortez touch on varied forms of classic metal throughout The Depths Below‘s nine-track/44-minute run and offer a few surprises along the way. They’ve never really been a touring band, but their reputation as songwriters is well established going back a decade to their 2007 Buzzville Records-issued Thunder in a Forgotten Town EP, and it’s that core of craftsmanship that allows them to go where they will sonically across this material. Despite several distinct sonic turns both early and late in the proceedings, Cortez remain in complete control of their direction, and so guide their listeners skillfully from front to back.

That’s fortunate, because they lead the way through some surprisingly dark places. With a notably spacious recording and mix by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak, Q Division and Moontower Recording Studio, a chug-plodder like second cut “Poor and Devoid” and the atmospheric spirit of “The Citadel” and closer “Orison” come through as particularly open-feeling despite their underlying structure. And even more uptempo movements like opener “All Gone Wrong” — heck of a title to start with — and its later companion-piece “To the Skies” have a moodier feel, the latter keeping a rhythmic swing behind near-militaristic layers of lead and rhythm guitar in its second half, Harrington seeming to take influence from Lo-Pan‘s Jeff Martin in his vocal presentation. A significant portion of The Depths Below‘s overall impact comes from its included three-parter, which follows “All Gone Wrong” and “Poor and Devoid” and seems to tell a story through “Walk Through Fire (Part I),” “The Citadel (Part II)” and “Blood of Heirs (Part III),” the last of which also plays a crucial role as the centerpiece of the tracklisting and (presumably) the end of a vinyl-style side A.


The three pieces act as a sort of album-within-the-album, and move from the aggressive thrust of “Walk Through Fire,” which roughs up mid-’90s chugging and adds gang vocals to its hook before a harmonized solo leads past the halfway point and into the even-more-thrashing back end of the track, setting up a contrast with the slower, ambient fluidity of “The Citadel” — a highlight of The Depths Below as a whole, but also arguably its darkest single moment, working back and forth through a downtrodden-feeling chorus toward a tempo pickup in the final third. It’s the longest inclusion at just over seven minutes, and again, is anchored by Cortez‘s songwriting in such a way as to allow for a fluid transition into the thrashing “Blood of Heirs.” One wonders if “Blood of Heirs” especially and some of the more generally metallic-feeling songs here have their root in O’Dowd‘s seemingly-defunct or at very least currently inactive other outfit, Black Thai, but either way, it would be hard to argue the shift in approach doesn’t suit Cortez, and so I won’t.

Part of that stems from overall progression of the band, though Harrington‘s vocal performance is especially noteworthy and he brings considerable frontman presence even to this studio output, whether that’s from deep in the mix of “The Citadel” or in topping the march of “To the Skies,” which leads off side B of The Depths Below with a return-to-ground hook that brings the listener back to a starting point similar to “All Gone Wrong” without directly aping that track’s impression. Each cut from here on out makes a decidedly distinct statement of who Cortez are as a band, whether it’s the grungier, somewhat melancholic heavy rock (again Lo-Pan seem to be a reference point) of “Kill Your Ghosts,” or the penultimate “Dead Channel,” which so directly calls out River Runs Red-era Life of Agony that it finds Harrington coming very, very close to rapping in a ’90s urban post-hardcore style, or the aforementioned closer “Orison,” which harmonizes over a more doomed vibe and broods its way toward a more active, chugging finish, very much a complement to “The Citadel” the way “To the Skies” seemed to speak to “All Gone Wrong.”

These changes in intent are no less striking than the sharp visual impression of Seymour‘s cover art, but once more, it’s Cortez‘s skill as songwriters that allows them to shift so drastically and still maintain their hold on their audience. Even parts that one doesn’t think of as “hooks” as an alternate word for “chorus,” whether it’s a standout riff, or bassline, or lyric manage to leave the listener with a memorable landmark — to say nothing of “Dead Channel,” on which the entire song itself becomes the standout — and that forms the basis of what Cortez ultimately bring to The Depths Below. As a group, they’ve never needed anything more than that to make their point, and they don’t here, but five years after their debut, it’s worth noting the multi-tiered development that’s taken place corresponding to their craft. They’re still very much a heavy rock band, and one suspects they always will be, but Cortez are brazenly pushing themselves to try new things on The Depths Below, and in direct contrast to the title, the results only seem to bring them to new heights of achievement.

Cortez on Thee Facebooks

Cortez website

Cortez on Bandcamp

Cortez on Twitter

Salt of the Earth Records website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

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Cortez Post New Single “Walk Through Fire”; Confirm June 16 Release for The Depths Below

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I have’t yet heard the new Cortez record, The Depths Below, which is out in just about a month via Salt of the Earth Records. It’s been five years since Cortez issued their self-titled (review here), so you’ll pardon me if I’m somewhat impatient, and the newly-posted single “Walk Through Fire” only adds intrigue to the promise of the outing as a whole, both through the grimness of its artwork — seriously, kind of looks like a death metal album, doesn’t it? — and the aggressive push in the song itself. Of course, it’s Cortez, so there’s still a righteous riff-led hook to be found in the song, but it’s surrounded by some surprising intensity and I can’t help but wonder how that plays out over The Depths Below‘s full span.

And I’m still wondering… because I haven’t heard the record yet. And that’s not the coy, “not saying I’ve heard it or anything” — I actually haven’t heard it. What’s up, Cortez? Some of us would like to get going on a review, you know.

You can hear why I’m in a hurry at the bottom of the post:

cortez walk through fire

CORTEZ release new single; announce release date for The Depths Below

Boston, MA heavy rockers CORTEZ release the digital single “Walk Through Fire” in advance of their new album The Depths Below. The single features artwork by Joe Keinberger and is available via the CORTEZ bandcamp page:

CORTEZ’ sophomore full length The Depths Below will be released via Salt Of the Earth Records on CD and digital formats on June 16, 2017. The band’s first full length since the 2012 self-titled, features nine songs and clocks in at 45 minutes. Running the gamut from heavy rock to NWOBHM-influenced metal songs, The Depths Below is sure to surprise some longtime fans of the band with its variety. The Depths Below was recorded and mixed by Benny Grotto (Scissorfight, Orange Goblin, Worshipper) at three different studios (Q Division, Mad Oak, and Moontower Recording) and was mastered by Jeff Lipton at Peerless Mastering. The cover art for The Depths Below is courtesy of David Paul Seymour.

For preorders, visit:

The Depths Below Track Listing:

1. All Gone Wrong
2. Poor And Devoid
3. Walk Through Fire
4. The Citadel
5. Blood Of Heirs
6. To The Skies
7. Kill Your Ghosts
8. Dead Channel
9. Orison

Matthew Harrington – vocals
Scott O’Dowd – guitar, backing vocals
Alasdair Swan – guitar
Jay Furlo – bass, backing vocals
Alexei Rodriguez – drums

Jeremy Hemond performed all drums on The Depths Below.

Cortez, “Walk Through Fire”

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Cortez Announce New Drummer; The Depths Below Due in June

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Man, Cortez must be losing their minds to get this record out. Already last fall when the Boston-based outfit were announced as picked up by Salt of the Earth Records for the release, it was almost a year old, and well, it’s not like time has moved backward since then. We’re half a decade removed from their 2012 self-titled (review here), and in the interim, the band has only continued to push ahead, adding guitarist Alasdair Swan and now drummer Alexei Rodriguez (ex-Prong, 3 Inches of Blood) to the lineup with guitarist Scott O’Dowd, bassist Jay Furlo and vocalist Matt Harrington.

Time for The Depths Below to come out? Yeah, I’d say so. In welcoming Rodriguez to the group, they give a tentative June release date for the new offering, which they’ll reportedly tease with an advance track next month. The sooner the better all around, quite frankly.

More to come on this one, but yeah, I’d think as much as anyone is anticipating this thing being realized, the band must be pretty high on that list.

From the PR wire:


Cortez would like to officially announce the addition of our new drummer, Alexei Rodriguez. Alexei comes to us with vast experience – having played drums in such bands as Catharsis, Prong, 3 Inches Of Blood, among others. We are extremely excited about the future of Cortez and can’t wait to start recording new material. Alexei’s live debut with Cortez will be on May 20, 2017 at the 13th Floor Music Lounge in Florence, MA.

Cortez’ new album The Depths Below will be released in June on Salt Of the Earth Records. In anticipation of the album’s release, we will release a digital single of the song “Walk Through Fire” in May.

Cortez is:

Matt Harrington – vocals
Scott O’Dowd – guitar
Alasdair Swan – guitar
Jay Furlo – bass
Alexei Rodriguez – drums

Cortez, The Depths Below teaser

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Cortez Sign to Salt of the Earth Records; The Depths Below Due this Fall

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 5th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

The teaser clip below provides a quick first glimpse at the new album from Boston heavy rockers Cortez. Titled The Depths Below, the full-length was put to bed nearly a year ago, having been recorded by the esteemed Benny Grotto at Q Division Studios, and it will serve as a welcome follow-up to their 2012 self-titled (review here), as well as yet another record to look forward to before the end of 2016, which seems to have packed as many releases as possible into its second half. Fair enough. One more never hurts, particularly when it brings riffs like those of the sort that Cortez proffer. The song in the clip is called “To the Skies.”

Announcement of their signing to Salt of the Earth Records for the new release follows here, courtesy of the PR wire:



SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS is proud as all hell to announce the signing of Boston riff lords CORTEZ! This veteran group of heavy rock fuzzdealers have really outdone themselves with their latest offering…“The Depths Below”. Truth be told, this album is going to knock you on your ass! All killer, Zero filler. Track after track of sonic bliss.

Having built up a loyal fan base both stateside and abroad over their decade plus existence, CORTEZ have really honed their craft and brought their rock game to a whole new level. Crushing tones, killer hooks and creative dynamics are skillfully woven throughout this blistering nine song release… “The Depths Below” is guaranteed to sink its teeth into you on the first listen.

“The Depths Below” was Recorded and mixed by studio guru, Benny Grotto (Scissorfight, Aerosmith, Lo-Pan) at Q Division, Mad Oak Studios, and Moontower Recording Studio making it the kind of album you will want to both blast from the largest of speakers, as well as repeated listens on a pair of headphones. There is so much packed into these mountain sized grooves!

So with that, we welcome CORTEZ to the SALT OF THE EARTH RECORDS family. With open arms and riff pummeled eardrums!

Watch for ”The Depths Below” coming this fall!

Cortez, The Depths Below teaser

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Cortez Finish Work on New Album The Depths Below

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 1st, 2015 by JJ Koczan

cortez (Photo by Bruce Bettis)

Good news from the camp of Allston, Massachusetts, heavy rockers Cortez. The five-piece outfit have finished work on their impending sophomore full-length, and unveiled the title as The Depths Below. They began the recording process last December with the esteemed Benny Grotto at the helm at Q Division Studios in Somerville, MA, and have gradually chipped away at the tracks — names like “Farewell to Kings” and “Orison” have been leaked — since then at both Q Division and the seemingly-compatriot Moontower Recording Studio, taking time here and there for gigs at the now-defunct TT the Bear’s Place — I’ll buy it; sign me up — and at the Grub, Sweat and Beers fest with ShatnerHessianSetGozuBlackwolfgoatConclave and a host of other local heavy luminaries.

No public word on the release plan for The Depths Below — which is to say, if Cortez know when or how it’s coming out, they haven’t posted about it — but when it arrives, it will be the follow-up to 2012’s self-titled debut (review here) and their 2014 split single with Borracho (semi-review here) and their first full-length outing since they added Alasdair Swan on second guitar alongside the established four-piece of six-stringer Scott O’Dowd, vocalist Matt Harrington, bassist Jay Furlo and drummer Jeremy Hemond. Naturally one expects that shift in dynamic will show itself in the material, but we may yet be a while off from finding out exactly how. A 2016 seems fair to expect, but one never knows. Could show up earlier if the art and pressing plans are done.

More info when I see or hear it, but for now, their announcement of the record’s completion was quick and victorious:

cortez matt singing

Our new album is finished and has been mastered. We have settled on the title “The Depths Below”. It didn’t take quite as long to finish as GnR’s Chinese Democracy, and unlike that album, we’re confident that it’ll have been worth the wait.

Cortez, Studio Snippet 2015

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